In 1982, Dr. Delma Presley, a professor at Georgia Southern organized Project R.A.F.T. as a way to honor the memories of the men who floated timber down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers in the early part of the 20th century. R.A.F.T. was an acronym for Restore Altamaha Folklife Traditions. The project, which was centered here at McRae’s Landing, was a huge success and was coordinated with folklife festivals along the river. Author Brainard Cheney, a native of Fitzgerald who had written several popular novels about life on the river was also active in the project and spoke at numerous locations along the route. I wrote to Dr. Presley about his book Okefinokee Album (still in print!)and his work with Project R.A.F.T. when I was still in high school and he sent me a video tape and souvenir program of the project, which was my first exposure to local documentary work. I finally got to meet Dr. Presley in 2011 at a presentation to the Long County Chamber of Commerce and he still has fond memories of this project, especially of the last raft pilot, the late Bill Deen. Dr. Presley himself is quite an accomplished scholar and was one of Georgia Southern’s most popular professors, combining his passion for literature with a passion to preserve and document the rapidly vanishing folk culture of Southeast Georgia. In fact, he’s been compiling research on the human history of the Altamaha River for over thirty years. He was also instrumental in establishing the Georgia Southern University Museum.
Text on Monument: On April 3, 1982, Piloted by Captain Bill Deen, Age 90, the Last Raft of Georgia Pine Timber Began a Journey of 140 Miles Down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers to the Coastal City of Darien, Georgia. Smaller than the Great Rafts of the 1880s, the Raft of 1982 was 85 by 30 Feet and Weighed Almost 50 Tons. Oar Sweeps of 35 Feet Were at Each End. After Stopping for Folk Festivals Near Baxley and Jesup, the Raft and a Crew of 8 Arrived in Darien on April 20. The Rafthands of 1982 and Today Honor All Who Know and Love Our Rivers, Land, and People.
I’m pictured here with Dr. Del Presley (Front) and the late Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles (Rear) at a 2011 Long County Chamber of Commerce event. Sheriff Nobles was very supportive of Dr. Presley’s research on the river.